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TSA Says CAPPS II Will Fly On

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Tuesday they will continue to "refine and improve plans" for the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II).

A joint statement from DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly and TSA Administrator Admiral James Loy said, "The mission of the CAPPS II system has been and always will be aviation security. As part of this commitment to keep the skies safe and defend the homeland, we have an absolute obligation to prevent terrorists and the most violent criminal fugitives from gaining access to our commercial aviation system."

The statement was issued in response to a Monday press conference by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and prominent conservatives that the CAPPS II program is the "logical outgrowth of the bureaucratic fixation on technological quick fixes to highly complicated international and domestic security problems."

In late July, DHS issued new guidelines for the program aimed at defusing the firestorm of criticism that followed the March disclosures that the TSA planned to scan government and commercial databases for potential terrorist threats when a passenger makes flight reservations.

"Not only would CAPPS II threaten privacy and likely reduce security, but there's no guarantee against bias in the system," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative office. "Further, TSA officials are already hinting that CAPPS II could be used outside of the airports -- a clear example of mission creep."

Although the TSA dropped its previous plans to access passenger credit records and said it would only use commercial information to help verify name, address and date of birth, Murphy said the "TSA still intends to use highly classified intelligence and law enforcement data to measure threat levels."

Murphy added, "The intrusive and dangerous element of the program -- the construction of a system for conducting background checks -- would depend on shadowy intelligence/law enforcement databases of questionable reliability."

Shortly after the press conference, the DHS issued its statement, denying many of the claims made Monday.

"The changes to CAPPS II were made based on comments and meetings from countless citizens, security experts, privacy advocates and many of the same organizations that held a press conference (Monday)," the statement said. "Their voices have been heard, and will continue to be heard as we work together to refine and improve plans for the CAPPS II system."

Kelly and Loy said the new guidelines "strictly limited uses of the system and narrowed the type of information used by CAPPS II. Under the revised plan for CAPPS II, the TSA will not allow commercial data providers to acquire ownership of passenger name records, or to retain or commercially use those records or passengers' scores. CAPPS II will not use bank records, records indicating creditworthiness or medical records."

The statement said the revised guidelines represent a " a significant narrowing of the uses of CAPPS II over the original Federal Register Notice published in January of 2003."